So Survives Close Call Vs. Aronian, All Games Drawn
A close call for So. Photo: Lennart Ootes / WR Chess Masters.

So Survives Close Call Vs. Aronian, All Games Drawn

| 10 | Chess Event Coverage

GM Levon Aronian nearly extended his lead with a win on Wednesday in the WR Chess Masters 2023, but GM Wesley So escaped the danger and drew the game. With draws in all five games of round six, leaving the order of the standings unchanged, Aronian remains in the lead by one point. 

GM R Praggnanandhaa outplayed GM Anish Giri with the black pieces as well but was unable to convert the full point. In another exciting game, GM Vincent Keymer played an exciting exchange sacrifice but ultimately drew GM Jan-Krzysztof Duda.

GM Gukesh D entered a two bishops vs. two knights endgame against GM Nodirbek Abdusattorov, but the latter defended seamlessly. Finally, GM Ian Nepomniachtchi attempted to squeeze GM Andrey Esipenko in a bishop vs. knight endgame, but the second player held his own.

Round seven begins on Thursday, February 23, at 5:00 a.m. PT/14:00 CET

See what happened:
The games of the WR Chess Masters 2023 can be found here

So-Aronian was the critical pairing in the event, as So was one of the two players in tied second-third. A win for the Filipino-American grandmaster would have put him in tied-first. Aronian has yet to play his other pursuer, Gukesh, in the final round of the event.

Aronian was unchallenged by the opening and had equal chances with the black pieces in a sharp position. He was soon already better, and by move 19, the engine already gave a winning advantage after 19...Nd3. Instead, he went for a direct attack on the kingside but was met with a defensive queen sacrifice.

 Facing the imbalance of a rook, knight, and pawn against his queen, Black forced the draw with a perpetual check.

The game was no cup of tea. Photo: Lennart Ootes / WR Chess Masters.

It's a decent result for Aronian, although a win would have marked a potential runaway in the tournament, with just three rounds remaining. And it is a fine result for So, all things considered, who persists at the top of the leaderboard.

After the game, Aronian did not seem flustered by the result: "You're going to miss chances. Opponents are fighting very hard and they're all great players. you cannot convert every single better position."

This is our Game of the Day, annotated by GM Rafael Leitao

Gukesh-Abdusattorov started with an English Opening that turned into a sort of Alapin Sicilian with colors reversed. Abdusattorov made the sound decision to develop his bishop to e6, losing the bishop pair to complete development. He even gave his second bishop on move 19. 

Although White had the "pure" bishop pair against two knights, which usually constitutes an advantage, the Uzbek GM evaluated the arising position correctly. He drew without a hitch. 

Gukesh remains a point behind Aronian while his opponent is in a five-way tie in last.

Gukesh drew four games since his victory in round two. Photo: Lennart Ootes / WR Chess Masters.

Giri-Praggnanandhaa was a fascinating struggle that could have ended decisively in the Indian grandmaster's favor. In an offbeat line of the English Opening, Giri produced a novelty as early as move six. Unfazed, Praggnanandhaa equalized and said by move 23: "I was kind of happy with my position here because [the] knight on c2 is completely misplaced." 

He outplayed his opponent, but the position required an extremely high level of precision. Giri was forced to sacrifice the exchange, but he eventually found the brilliant 42.Kf1!!, running his king to the center of the board, to hold his position together. The imbalanced position was full of twists and turns, but ultimately neither player was able to make more of it than a half point.

A missed opportunity for Praggnanandhaa. Photo: Lennart Ootes / WR Chess Masters.

After the game, the 17-year-old grandmaster said: "It was an interesting game and I'm happy to play against such a strong player. Such a game like where I, you know, outplayed him in the start and, you know, was playing for a win throughout the game with the black pieces."

Nepomniachtchi and Esipenko played a classical game just once before, at the 2020 Russian Championship Superfinal. The current world number-two won that game, where he started with 1.e4 and was met with the Petroff Defense in response.

In this game, he started with 1.d4, which either gives insight into his preparation for the world championship or a distraction from his true intentions. Esipenko said afterward: "I couldn't really understand like what Ian would play in this game because his main move is e4, first move, and in this tournament he started to play d4 also and c4, so I repeated all these lines, but not this Nimzo with Qc2 because Ian, I guess, never played it before."

In the Nimzo-Indian Defense that arose, they followed a previous game where Black temporarily sacrificed a pawn, Al Sayed-Moradiabadi, Ha Long City 2009, for 19 moves. After giving the pawn back, the first player had some pressure in a bishop vs. knight endgame, but he was unable to fluster his opponent. In the endgame, White was unable to break the blockade on the dark squares.

Black found a way to sacrifice his knight for White's remaining pawns, and they played until White had insufficient mating material, with just a bishop, on move 88. Draw. Both players remain on the top half of the scoreboard.

The Russian world championship challenger tries to find his form in the event. Photo: Lennart Ootes / WR Chess Masters.

Although Keymer and Duda played each other since 2019 online, they had not faced one another in classical chess before this game. 

Out of the gates of the Ruy Lopez, Keymer unleashed a fascinating maneuver where he moved his rook five times in a row to grab a pawn only to sacrifice the exchange right after, ...Rb8-Rb5-Rxa5-Rc5-Rb5. All engine-approved, it was a case of some good home cooking.

After the game, Duda said: "I was totally unfamiliar with the idea of giving up the exchange. At first, I honestly thought it was a blunder by him." Despite the surprise, neither player was able to prove a significant advantage and they agreed to a draw before the inevitable opposite-color bishop endgame arose.

All Games - Round 6

Standings - Round 6

The WR Chess Masters 2023 takes place February 15-26, 2023, at the Hyatt Regency Dusseldorf in Germany. The format is a round-robin with 10 players. The time control is 120 minutes for the first 40 moves followed by 60 minutes for the next 20 moves and 15 minutes for the rest of the game plus a 30-second increment per move starting with move 61. The prize fund is 130,000 Euros.

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